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American Viticultural Area Valuations Offer Potential Tax Savings for Wineries

American Viticultural Area Valuations Offer Potential Tax Savings for Wineries

Producers and consumers place great value on where their wine grapes are grown. The famous wine-grape producing areas—such as Napa Valley, California, and Walla Walla, Washington— have come to be publicly associated with quality.

However, many wineries are surprised to learn this perceived quality can be quantified and used to offset tax liabilities in the years following a vineyard purchase. The more prestigious the land area, the greater the potential savings.

This complex process includes an American Viticultural Area (AVA) valuation, and the potential tax savings can be significant. Here’s what wineries and vineyard owners need to know about the process to potentially benefit from the savings opportunity.

What’s an AVA Valuation?

An AVA is a geographic area where wine grapes are produced, as defined by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). As of June 3, 2020, there are 248 established AVAs in the United States, with 139 in California.

An AVA may have an intangible value associated with the quality of the grapes produced within it. Unlike land, producers may be able to amortize the value of this asset for tax purposes, but doing so requires a valuation to determine the intangible value of the AVA.

Intangible Value

Simply put, the intangible value of a production area results from the perceived value of the wine and wine grapes produced there. This value comes from a number of factors, such as established root stock, weather, soil quality, and consumer preference.

Wineries are only allowed to claim their wine was produced in an AVA if the following conditions are met:

  • 85% of the grapes used to produce it were grown there
  • The wine is registered with the TTB

Grape Pricing Comparison

Prices paid for grapes from different regions can vary dramatically. The graphs below illustrate 2019 bulk grape pricing in California, as reported by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) for different crush districts.

Grape Pricing Comparison

For example, in the Cabernet Sauvignon grape pricing chart, we can see that in district four—which is Napa County—the median price of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes was approximately $9,000 per ton.

This can be compared to the median of district 10—which includes the Sierra Nevada Foothills counties such as El Dorado and Amador—where the median price for Cabernet grapes was $1,625 per ton.

Potential Tax Benefit

When a buyer purchases a vineyard, the AVA intangible creates a potential tax savings by amortizing the AVA value in the 15 years after the purchase occurs.

If an AVA intangible isn’t measured at the time of a purchase, an AVA valuation can still be performed and the amortization expenses can be retroactively applied to recognized deductions not taken in prior years.

Amortization

Amortization is the gradual recognition in income of a capital expense over a specific period of time. It’s typically associated with intangible assets—like trademarks—or, in this case, AVAs.

Essentially, it expenses the intangible value of the AVA associated with the land. This option allows vineyard owners to put some of the money they’ve spent to acquire land in a highly desirable AVA back into their businesses.

AVA Valuation Methods

If you purchase a vineyard, you can’t depreciate or amortize the value of the land used to grow the grapes. There’s a distinct separation between the AVA value and the value of the land.

Quantifying the AVA value happens through a complex process known as an AVA valuation. The resulting amount is what vineyards are able to claim for amortization.

There are a few different methods used to determine the potential AVA value.

With and Without

This method involves looking at two scenarios in which vineyards producing the same grapes of similar quality are compared. One vineyard is within a particular AVA, and one isn’t.

By comparing different prices of the grapes produced in each area and the subsequent effect on projected cash flows from the vineyards, the AVA’s intangible value can be calculated.

Relief from Royalty

Estimating a hypothetical avoided royalty or licensing fee is a common way to value tradenames. Distinguishing that a wine is made with grapes from a specific AVA is much the same as marketing that wine with a specific trademark.

While we know AVA designations can’t be licensed, wine brands, as well as brands for other similar products, can be. Comparing the licensing and royalty fees that might be paid by wineries wishing to use different brand names on their packaging offers many insights into the potential value an AVA designation could offer.

Generally, the more profit a winery can produce by licensing a brand, the higher the value of the associated intangible asset.

Vineyard Land Sales

Also known as the market approach, comparing the sale records of different vineyards offers an indirect way to quantify the effects of an AVA designation on land value.

While the price of vineyards can be impacted by many factors, these designations can have a significant impact on comparative vineyard value. The goal is to separate the cost of the land from the value provided by the AVA designation.

Getting Started

With owners making claims about AVA value due to the potentially significant tax savings, the IRS and states are increasing scrutiny on these claims. The larger the claim, the more likely an examination could occur.

Making a well-supported claim should be the ultimate goal. Utilizing multiple valuation methods, providing the appropriate documentation, and working with an advisor with deep industry expertise can help the process move smoothly.

Next Steps

For more information about AVA valuations and how they could help your winery save money, contact an accounting or consulting professional.

Donovan Trone has worked in finance and research since 2009, performing valuations services for operating companies, partnerships, and limited liability corporations for mergers and acquisitions and financial reporting. He can be reached at (408) 558-4320 or donovan.trone@mossadams.com.

Alex Luke has worked in data processing and analysis since 2013. He has extensive experience in data solutions, marketing and business, and valuations analysis. He can be reached at (425) 961-7029 or alex.luke@mossadams.com.

Assurance, tax, and consulting offered through Moss Adams LLP. Investment advisory services offered through Moss Adams Wealth Advisors LLC. Investment banking offered through Moss Adams Capital LLC.

Accountant vs Bookkeeper

Accountant vs Bookkeeper

As wineries search for growth in today’s digital world, the accountant vs bookkeeper debate has become all the more relevant. Innovation, technology, and eCommerce have made traditional marketing strategies for wineries nearly obsolete. 

As RaboBank recently highlighted, only those wineries who respond to market changes with the needed urgency will thrive, and wine businesses that have leveraged the power of eCommerce have already seen massive returns. In this effort, the need for winery accounting and bookkeeping management has also risen.

Accountant vs Bookkeeper: Who Does What?

Before we get into which professional is right for your winery, it’s important to highlight the differences between them; each specializes in different responsibilities between financial and operational management within your winery business. 

An accountant is responsible for recording and presenting the financial well-being of a business. The most pertinent profiles for Ecommerce wineries are management accountants and tax accountants. 

Management accountants take charge of representing the financial performance of your digital business through drafting budgets, reconciling balance sheets, and analyzing financial reports stored on your eCommerce platform, among other actions. 

On the other hand, a tax accountant does tax reporting management. That includes calculating your business taxes and offering counsel on your business strategy to minimize tax audits and lessen the possibilities of tax law breaches. 

Unlike accountants, a bookkeeper records any and every financial transaction that your winery does. They are important team members, as they are responsible for identifying, recording, and labeling the purpose of every financial transaction in your winery.

Is an Accountant or a Bookkeeper Right for my Winery? 

The Ecommerce winery business model calls for both management and tax accountants. Management accountants are important as they provide you with the financial insight you need to gauge the effectiveness of your business strategy and make better financial decisions. While some winery executives feel that they can handle finances on their own, doing so will take them away from other important areas of business development, like sales and digital marketing.

Similarly, tax accountants are all the more important now than ever as winery businesses now need to enter into unchartered waters of eCommerce. Onboarding an accounting professional who has the right legal and tax knowledge in the digital field will steer you away from possible tax infringement. 

Bookkeepers take care of major responsibilities. However, practice shows that they are often too bogged down by data entry tasks that they don’t have the time to deal with possible financial issues, or provide actionable analysis and insight into the business’s key performance indicators (KPIs). While accountants can absorb the role of a bookkeeper, they tend to be overqualified and too expensive for the role. Furthermore, hiring all three professionals individually is too costly for most wineries, and the winery owner or executive is still responsible for making sure all three individuals work together seamlessly.

Luckily, the solution to this financial dilemma can be solved by getting in touch with Protea Financial.

Protea Financial: Ultimate Winery Accounting & Bookkeeping Services

Protea Financial is an accounting and bookkeeping firm that designs and implements customized accounting solutions for businesses. We are not a tax preparer, but we support businesses of all sizes in managing their finances so that they can focus on other facets of their business development. 

Our services include tax schedules, managing financial accounts, preparing accounting documentation, and bookkeeping

For wineries, we have an all-inclusive service that covers responsibilities needed for tax and financial management and bookkeeping, and our services are significantly less expensive than if a winery were to individually hire each professional. 

By housing all professionals under one team, we deliver the same services at a rate that’s below the average marketing-price while maintaining premium quality and accuracy. Furthermore, the winery’s leadership does not need to spend time training, overseeing, and making sure unrelated financial professionals are working together productively. 

Our team, led by Zane Stevens, consists of almost 25 accountants that, together, bring decades worth of accounting and financial managerial experience to our projects. We are poised to assist you in driving your winery business to success.

Get in touch with us to set up a consultation for your winery accounting and bookkeeping needs. We will conduct a thorough evaluation of your winery financial life-cycle to develop and propose a strategy that will lead you to financial freedom. 

Set up your evaluation today.

Harnessing Data for Tasting Rooms

Harnessing Data for Tasting Rooms

The value of that customer relationship is typically 5-6 times what they spend during their tasting room visit, and it takes some effort to ascertain this value, but this is critical to understanding how much can a winery spends to attract more customers.

Direct-to-consumer sales continually grow in importance for small wineries in the face of distributor consolidation. Wineries now have a greater range of options for eCommerce and POS systems, but few wineries effectively harness all the data they have to grow sales. A good financial team can help capture, organize, and analyze this information to support management and sales to increase revenue.

This data collection and analysis should start even before a guest arrives. Hotels use pace reports to judge how well they are progressing toward their occupancy goals, and tasting rooms should use them, as well. Your tasting room seats are like hotel rooms or seats in a restaurant – if you don’t sell them, you will never have a chance to sell that same seat again. Of course, if you don’t sell a bottle of wine today, you will still have a chance to sell it tomorrow, but you will have missed the opportunity to use that perishable seat to develop another customer relationship.

The value of that customer relationship is typically 5-6 times what they spend during their tasting room visit, and it takes some effort to ascertain this value, but this is critical to understanding how much can a winery spends to attract more customers. If you know the typical customer arriving at your winery is going to spend $3,000 and generate $2,000 in marginal profit over the next three years, you can justify a fairly healthy marketing budget to find more customers.

This process does require a few steps to develop actionable information. The winery needs to track customers over time in order to determine the customer’s lifetime spend. Fortunately, most CRM software will provide sufficient historical transaction data that your accounting team can download the transaction history, clean up the data to provide a year-by-year summary of each customer’s purchases. From this, you can determine a customer’s spend over a certain period. Then, combining this purchase history along with good costing information on the wines the customer has purchased (see previous post on costings), and a good understanding of the operating costs (credit card processing fees, shipping costs not borne by the customer, commissions paid to sales staff, etc.) allows the winery to determine the marginal profit from a customer. That provides guidance on how much a winery can spend to acquire more customers. If the cost of acquiring a customer is less than the customer’s lifetime marginal profit for the winery, the winery will see a steady growth in DTC sales and profitability.

Once the customers are on-site, it is time for the hospitality staff to shine, but the financial team should be helping the hospitality staff refine their efforts by looking at conversion rates, data capture, and order sizes on a routine basis. An aggressive marketing effort to attract more customers isn’t effective if it increases visits, but the staff isn’t capturing visitor data (so you can sell them more wine in the future) and converting them into customers. Given the difference in value between a visitor and a customer, the financial team should be able to help management develop an incentive plan that will reward staff and help the business turn more visitors into customers. In some cases, we have seen simple sales incentives more than double a tasting room’s performance.

Maximizing Profit Through Wine Pricing

Maximizing Profit Through Wine Pricing

Most small wineries fail to properly maximize profit when setting prices.

In fact, most wineries evaluate and change their wine pricing too infrequently – a decision to not change wine prices is still a price-setting decision by default.

A good wine pricing exercise needs to be a three-way conversation with sales, winemaking, and accounting.  More importantly, the discussion needs to go beyond just a gut feeling about the market. Most wineries have data to guide the discussion, but it requires some effort to identify and analyze the necessary information, as it is rarely in plain sight.

The sales team can provide a sense of the market’s likely response, but the results from the winery’s most recent price change are likely to be more instructive.  If your accounting team can estimate the price elasticity of demand (basically, a measure of how sensitive the volume of sales is to a price change) for the wines, management can then have a better guide to evaluating the price-volume trade-offs. (Yes, there are some step functions in the demand curves, but management should use data, not gut, to evaluate the actual magnitude of these wine pricing changes.)

Equipped with this price elasticity estimate and the current cost of production, the accounting team can then estimate the total gross profit at each combination of price and volume.  We have seen so many wineries that haven’t changed wine prices in years, but costs have steadily crept up, eroding their margins.  In this scenario, especially when gross profit margins slip below 35%, it is actually much easier to raise total gross profit with a price increase (rather than trying to increase volume).  Furthermore, given the length of wine’s product cycle, the return on capital for growing through volume is often lower than the return on growing through price (but this is a topic for another day).

Conversely, some wineries with very high gross profit margins may be able to increase total profitability through a decrease in wine pricing, but this is actually a rarer situation, so a winery should be very careful and examine the data thoroughly before dropping prices.

Another reason for making small, thoughtful changes to wine prices more frequently, is to develop a deeper data set from which to develop insight to drive a more strategic and profitable pricing strategy.

5 Things to Know about R&D Tax Credits for Vineyards and Wineries

5 Things to Know about R&D Tax Credits for Vineyards and Wineries

by Travis Riley, CPA & Partner and Josh Harbin, CPA & Senior Manager – Moss Adams

R&D is often associated with technology and life science companies from Silicon Valley and San Francisco or head less than 100 miles north into the wine country or any other appellation across the United States, and you’ll find the same trend toward innovation being applied to the ancient practices of grape growing and winemaking.

However, many in the wine industry fail to utilize R&D tax incentives offered by federal and state governments. For wineries and grape growers, the potential tax savings could be significant. This article outlines key information to help wineries and grape growers benefit from this savings opportunity.

But first, what is the R&D tax credit?

The R&D tax credit is available to companies developing new or improved products or processes, including software, that results in increased performance, functionality, efficiency, reliability, or quality.

It’s a dollar-for-dollar tax saving that directly reduces a company’s tax liability. There’s no limitation on the number of expenses and credit that can be claimed each year. If the R&D credit can’t be used immediately or completely, any unused credit can be carried forward for up to 20 years (or indefinitely for California tax returns). In addition, previously filed tax returns can typically be amended for up to three years to claim the R&D credit retrospectively, providing an avenue to recoup previously paid taxes.

A new or small business may be eligible to apply for the R&D tax credit against their payroll tax for up to five years starting in 2016. The R&D credit is available both at the federal and state level, with many offering an R&D credit to offset state tax liability.

Read About Protea Bookkeeping Services

To help break down this complex topic, here’s a list of common questions vineyards and wineries have about the R&D credit.

1. How much can a company save with R&D tax credits?

Companies can receive a credit refund of up to 11% of their qualified expenses, depending on a number of factors. Generally, the more a company spends on qualified R&D, the higher the credit they’ll receive, with taxpayers receiving a larger credit if they increase R&D spending year over year.

2. What is qualified R&D?

Qualified R&D ultimately depends on whether the activity meets each element of the four-part test established in the tax code. These criteria include:

  • Elimination of uncertainty. The activity is undertaken to discover information intended to eliminate uncertainty about the capability, method, or design of a new or improved product or process.
  • Process of experimentation. The activity involves one or more alternatives intended to eliminate that uncertainty, and the conduct of a process of evaluating the alternatives (through modeling, simulation, or a systematic trial and error methodology).
  • Technological in nature. The process of experimentation must rely on hard sciences, such as engineering, physics, chemistry, biology, or computer science.
  • Qualified purpose. The activity relates to a new or improved function, performance, reliability, or quality of a product or process.

3. What vineyard and winery activities qualify for the R&D credit?

Vineyards and wineries often aren’t aware that many of the activities they perform—potentially at each stage of the winemaking and grape growing process—could meet this qualification.

Following are some specific examples of R&D activities that have qualified for the credit.

Testing or Evaluation

  • Geological plot characteristics, including soil, water, and climate conditions
  • Rootstocks, varietals, and clones for optimal cultivation in the vineyard
  • Fermentation methods to improve wine quality, flavor profiles, or economic efficiencies
  • Filtration methods to improve wine quality

New and Improved

  • Formulations for vine and soil nutrient management
  • Pruning and training techniques for optimal production
  • Techniques or formulations for pest and disease management
  • Methods to treat harvested grapes prior to sorting and destemming

Design or Development

  • Irrigation systems and water management techniques
  • Trellising systems for the desired canopy
  • Systems, structures, or techniques to improve harvesting processes
  • Automated sorting and crushing processes or equipment
  • Methods or systems to manage wastewater
  • Fermentation methods, processes, or techniques
  • Clarification methods or techniques, including improvements to fining and filtration processes
  • Product formulations for desired flavor or aroma profiles
  • Subterranean wine cave improvements
  • Bottling and packaging processes

4. What types of expenses can be included?

If a company determines the work it’s conducting likely qualifies, identifying related expenses is the next consideration.

Most expenses fall into three categories: wages, supplies, and contractor expenses.

Wages

Qualifying employee wages can include Form W-2, Box 1 or pass-through income subject to self-employment tax. This would include individuals performing qualified research, as well as those that directly support or supervise the research. The rules specify that if an employee is 80% qualified, 100% of their wage can be included to calculate the credit.

Supplies

Qualifying equipment and materials related to the research process can include the following:

  • Some large-scale prototypes and pilot models
  • Tangible property (other than land or depreciable property) that’s used in qualified research, including grapes, fining agents, corks, bottles, barrels, barrel staves, testing supplies, and batches of wine used in experimental blends

Contractor Expenses

Payments to contractors can be eligible, contingent on rules, including:

  • Expenses paid would be eligible if the same services were performed in-house
  • Contractors must be performing an activity that would have qualified if performed by employees
  • The taxpayer must be at risk in the sense that their payment isn’t contingent on the contractors’ results
  • The taxpayer must retain substantial rights—shared rights or greater—in the results

5. What’s the next step to apply for the R&D credit?

Each company’s goals, values, and resources are unique, which makes it important to develop a customized project plan to identify, calculate, and support your company’s R&D credits and activities.

If you think your company may qualify for the R&D credit, the first step is to collect preliminary information about your company’s potential qualified activities. That information is used to develop an estimate of the credit benefit your company could receive as well as identify other R&D-related tax planning opportunities so you can make an informed decision about whether an R&D credit analysis is worthwhile for your company.

With recent increased IRS scrutiny around R&D credits, it’s also crucial to understand what’s necessary to substantiate a credit claim. To learn more about R&D tax credits, see Five Misconceptions about Tax Credits – And If You Qualify or request a credit benefit estimate to see how much your company could save.

Travis Riley is a partner at Moss Adams. He has provided research tax credit studies to companies claiming R&D credits since 2006. He can be reached at (916) 503-8242 or travis.riley@mossadams.com.

Josh Harbin is a CPA and senior manager at Moss Adams. He has provided research tax credit studies to companies claiming R&D credits since 2012. He can be reached at (916) 503-8241 or josh.harbin@mossadams.com.