HD23 - The Taxation of Farm Wineries in Virginia

Executive Summary:
The 1994General Assembly directed the Department of Taxation (TAX) in conjunction with other state agencies to study the taxation of Virginia Farm Wineries. This study arose out of concerns over the possibility of Virginia taxes placing Virginia Farm Wineries at a competitive disadvantage with wineries in other states.

Study Techniques

TAX worked closely with the Wine Marketing Specialist of the Division of Marketing, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and consulted with the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control on various occasions. TAX also established a liaison with the Virginia Winegrowers Association to assist in determining concerns throughout Virginia's Farm Winery industry. TAX reviewed current department policy regarding farm wineries, taxes and fees imposed on wine by the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, surveyed 23 Virginia localities within which vineyards and farm wineries are located to determine local tax implications, and surveyed those states with wine industries comparable in size to Virginia's with regard to promotional efforts and incentives. The information and recommendations contained herein are based on TAX's findings with respect to trends in other states, local tax trends, and information compiled by TAX and other state agencies.

State of the Virginia Wine Industry

The Virginia Farm Winery industry has been, and continues to be, a growing part of Virginia's agriculture and commerce sectors. Virginia wines have been recognized as a high quality product both on the national and international levels. Consumption of Virginia wine by Virginians has steadily risen and state wines are also gaining popularity on the national level (Virginia has been recognized as "the most accomplished of America's emerging wine regions"). As a result of this increasing popularity and reputation, the industry has sustained a steady though modest growth in production volume. Over the past decade, on-site sales (sales at farm wineries) have risen approximately 13.2 percent annually; sales by wholesalers-distributors have risen 18 percent annually.

Over the past decade, the Virginia wine industry has emerged as a significant influence on the Virginia economy, generating investments of over $40 million and annual revenues in the neighborhood of $65 million, and employing over 1,500 people. In addition, the continued growth of the wine industry ensures total income and employment opportunities in rural areas without damaging the rural character and environmental quality of Virginia's agricultural regions.

Promotional Efforts and Return on Investment

Virginia's promotional efforts, as provided by the Virginia Winegrowers Advisory Board in conjunction with the Wine Marketing Office of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, have been exemplary in nature. As expressed by a representative of another state with a wine industry similar in size to Virginia's, Virginia has become "the envy" of other states with regard to the promotion of its wines.

The Virginia wine industry not only directly contributes to the economic growth of Virginia by producing an increasingly popular product which generates revenues and acclaim for the state, but it also plays a role in promoting tourism. Surveys reveal that in contrast with the typical tourist, winery visitors tend to stay in the state longer, are more affluent, and spend twice as much money while in the state.

Taxation of Wineries

Virginia wineries, as all businesses, are subject to a number of taxes at both the state and local levels. However, farm wineries, as other agricultural producers, also enjoy considerable tax incentives in the areas of the retail sales and use tax (on their purchases of items used directly in grape/wine production), and local property taxes in certain localities. TAX found that compared with the tax treatment of wineries/wine products in other states, the only area where Virginia wines may be at a disadvantage is with respect to the liter tax imposed by the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. The Virginia liter tax (converted to a gallonage tax for comparison with other states) is $1.51 per gallon, the fourth highest in the country. In addition, Virginia ABC imposes an additional ad valorem tax of 4% on all Virginia wines sold through its stores.

Other than the exemption from the retail sales and use tax on certain purchases, Virginia does not offer any state tax incentives to existing farm wineries or to new farm wineries seeking to locate in Virginia. With the exception of Ohio and Missouri, this is consistent with states with wine industries comparable in size to Virginia's. Ohio provides an income tax credit of 10% of total dollars invested in new vineyards; however, this is offered to help Ohio reverse a declining wine industry (by contrast, the industry has been growing in Virginia). In an effort to develop and expand its wine industry, Missouri offers a cash incentive for grape growing and also appropriates money to assist in start-up cost for new wineries.


Due to the generally favorable tax treatment of Virginia farm wineries as compared to other states, and the exemplary efforts and favorable comments from representatives of other states regarding the promotion of Virginia wines, widespread changes in these areas may be of little value. However, several recommendations are set out below, which could further enhance Virginia's wine industry and encourage its continuing growth:

• Commence a dialogue between the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) and the wine industry on tax and licensing issues.

While no evidence has been presented to indicate that the 4% ad valorem tax or the $1.51 per gallon wine excise tax detrimentally impact wine production or sales in Virginia, some winegrowers expressed concern over the high taxes imposed on their products.

A 4% ad valorem tax is imposed only on the sale of wines through Virginia ABC stores. Virginia wines are the only wine product sold by ABC. In addition, Virginia currently imposes a wine excise tax of $1.51 per gallon, the fourth highest rate in the country, on all wine sold in the state. The average wine excise tax rate per gallon for those states imposing an excise tax is 73 cents. It should be noted that the two states which produce 95% of the wine sold in the country, California and New York, impose a wine excise tax of only $0.20 per gallon.

Wineries also expressed concerns about state license taxes on commercial wineries. If a winery produces 5,000 gallons or less of wine in a year, the license tax is $350. However, if the winery produces more than 5,000 gallons of wine, the tax is $2,850 per year. A reduction in the license fee for production over 5,000 gallons, or a graduated license fee depending upon gallons produced, would reduce the financial impact of state licensure on Virginia wineries.

• Explore opportunities for greater cooperative marketing efforts by ABC, the Virginia Winegrowers Advisory Board, and Virginia farm wineries.

Two options that could be considered include encouraging farm wineries to seek to have their products sold through ABC and providing for higher visibility of Virginia wines in its stores. Currently ABC carries approximately 175 wines produced by Virginia wineries. It has a semi-annual listing process whereby a wine producer can seek to have his wine approved for sale by ABC. Promotion of this process, and possibly allowing for the listing process on a more frequent basis, may increase the presence of Virginia wines in ABC stores.

The fact that ABC stores sell Virginia wines is not very well known. Additional in-store advertising or changes in the outside signage appear to be low-cost alternatives to increasing consumer awareness of the availability of Virginia wines through such stores. While some advertising materials of this type currently are provided by the industry and some wineries, additional information could be provided.

• Encourage localities to adopt use-value assessments for land owned by farm wineries which is used for growing grapes and producing wine.

"Land use" taxation is available on a local option basis -- under this concept, localities can elect to assess agricultural, horticultural, and forestal real estate at its use-value, rather than its fair market value. While localities with the greatest presence of wineries and vineyards have adopted use-value assessment for land used for growing grapes, there remain some which value the property at fair market value.

Furthermore, localities may value the property owned by a farm winery differently - for example, the property upon which the grapes are grown may be valued at its use-value, but the property upon which the retail or manufacturing portion of the business is located may be valued at its fair market value.

Inconsistent treatment in the area of property valuation between localities has been a source of confusion and frustration for farm wineries. Uniformity in the use of land-use assessments would help to eliminate this confusion, result in a reduction of property taxes for some wineries and possibly serve as an inducement to individuals to establish wineries in Virginia.

Statewide application of land use taxation is an option, and is suggested in "Opportunity in Virginia", the Commonwealth's economic development strategic plan, as a means of stimulating the agricultural and forestry sectors. In addition, the Virginia Winegrowers Advisory Board can play a critical role in encouraging wine producing localities to adopt land use ordinances and to extend existing ordinances to include winery property.