The Washington Wine Commission should feel fortunate that Seattle is not Boston and that they are not the Red Sox.
If this were the case there would be a steady stream of stories in the Times counting the number of days since Executive Director Robin Pollard announced that she would be leaving with no successor in place. We would read stories about potential candidates coming and going from the office. Perhaps there would even be rumors of Commission staff members eating fried chicken and playing video games in the clubhouse during Taste Washington instead of rooting for their teammates on the field.*
But I digress.
In early October, Washington Wine Commission Executive Director Robin Pollard announced that she would be resigning at the end of the year after six years at the helm. Since that time the Commission has been engaged in finding her successor.
Established in 1987 by the state legislature, the Washington Wine Commission is funded by annual assessments on grape and wine sales. Pollard, who came to the Commission after serving as the Director of Tourism for the State of Washington, says, “I thought that the single best thing the Commission could do (when I started) was to lay out a five to ten year business strategy on developing markets and bringing the industry together, so that we’re all on the same page working toward the same goal.”
That initial planning, done in partnership with the state’s wineries, led to a strategic focus on several domestic markets, including Tampa, Austin, Denver, Phoenix, and Chicago. “If we go in and make a commitment to a market, then we see an impact,” Pollard says of these efforts. Simultaneously, the Commission has worked to increase international sales.
“We’re all about opening doors,” Pollard says. “At the same time we know we need to still pay attention to our own back yard.” To that end, the Commission launched a first-ever local advertising campaign and has worked to promote local restaurants that champion Washington wine. Significantly, it also recently secured a commitment to support construction of the Washington State Wine Science Center.
Pollard describes her work at the Commission as “the pinnacle of my professional experience,” and her tenure has coincided with a doubling of the number of wineries in the state. While it is hard to imagine a more prosperous period, Pollard says, “The future is very bright for the Washington wine industry.”
Beginning in January, Deputy Director Chris Stone will assume the necessary day-to-day activities until a successor is named. For personal reasons, Stone has decided not to apply for the position.
In its search for a new Executive Director, Wine Commission Public Relations Director Ryan Pennington states that the Commission has presently received a few dozen formal applications. The Commission has engaged Olympia-based recruiter Karras Consulting to assist with the process and conduct an initial screen of candidates.
While Pennington states that the Commission hasn’t put a rigid timeline on its search, the hope is to have someone in place by late February or early March if possible. This would coincide well with its annual, signature event – Taste Washington. It would also coincide, of course, with Spring Training reporting dates for the Red Sox.
Having a new Executive Director in place prior to Taste Washington might be particularly beneficial this year. Last month the Commission announced a new partnership with Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) to conduct the event. With this arrangement, the CVB will assume primary responsibility for producing the event with the Commission becoming a presenting sponsor.
“The objective for Taste Washington has been to continue to grow the event into a position of prominence as a national, destination food and wine event,” Ryan Pennington says. “What this partnership will do is allow both organizations to do what they do best. For us that’s organizing all wine related aspects of the event. All of the restaurant, hospitality, and tourism aspects as well as sponsor and vendor arrangements will be led by the CVB.”
In other changes, for 2012 Taste Washington is expanding to two days to encourage out-of-towners to come and spend the weekend. The event will take place March 31st and April 1st.
Could it be coincidence that by that time baseball Opening Day will be just four days away?
* If you don’t follow baseball at all those first two paragraphs will be completely incomprehensible to you. Sorry.