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Iowa Wineries' Ag Designation Means Thousands In Tax Breaks - Prototype PCB Board

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Wineries have sprouted in Iowa faster thangrapes on a vine in spring. Ten years ago, there were 18 wineriesin the state. Now, there are nearly 100. That boom in Iowa'swine-making business might be connected to a tax break that allowswineries -- including their tasting rooms, retail shops and eventscenters -- to be classified as agricultural property.

KCRG.com investigated these tax breaks to find out how much Iowa islosing in taxes and whether incentives are still needed. Ourfindings include: Of the 10 Iowa wineries that wholesaled the most wine infiscal 2011, the eight that had agricultural designation saved morethan $100, 000 in combined property taxes. Jasper Winery, a 2.8-acre urban winery in Des Moines, saved $54, 000 this year by being classified agricultural. Theproperty has only one acre of grapes, but competes with otherreception venues that pay higher commercial taxes.

Tax breaks are applied unevenly, with some Iowa countiesrequiring minimum acres of vines and others not grantingagricultural designation to tasting rooms and other buildings. Iowa is unusual in granting tax breaks for winery buildings. Seven other Midwestern wine-producing states tax tasting rooms, reception venues and processing facilities at full commercialvalue. Iowa levied taxes on $4.5 billion in assessed property in fiscal2011 to pay for schools, cities, counties and hospitals, amongother things. Commercial property owners are taxed on the full value of theproperty, whether that s a gas station, department store ormanufacturing plant.

Residential and agricultural property ownersget tax breaks of varying sizes depending on which tax districtthey re in. Providing tax breaks to a given group as Iowa lawmakersconsidered during the 2012 session for commercial property owners is like squeezing a balloon, Dave Ellis, chief deputy LinnCounty assessor. If you squeeze that balloon on one end, agricultural, it pops outon the other side, and that s residential, Ellis said. Few could argue vineyards aren t agricultural.

Vines that climbfrom the earth onto wire trellises are charming and utilitarian. Buildings used for processing grapes into wine also getagricultural tax breaks under Iowa Code section 441.21. Thisincludes everything from a lean-to for roadside wine sales to amillion-dollar facility with a tasting room, sales area andreception hall. Iowa assessors complain the law is vague, allowing for broadinterpretation. Jasper Winery has less than three acres, nestled into a hollow justsouthwest of downtown Des Moines.

The one acre of vines show signsof a hard frost this spring, but new, tiny green grapes are visibleon the fledgling vines. Jasper s modern building with an indoor-outdoor fireplace, cozybarrel room and banquet hall hosts events for up to 150 people, live music and tastings. Paul and Jean Groben opened the winery in 2008 after growing grapesand producing wine on their property near Newton since 2000. TheDes Moines parcel was classified as industrial until 2009, when itswitched to agricultural.

The Grobens would be paying more than $60, 000 a year in propertytaxes if the land was classified as industrial, compared to $5, 800for an agricultural parcel, said Randy Ripperger, deputy PolkCounty assessor. The Grobens have received additional tax breaksbecause the land is in an urban revitalization zone, he said. The Jasper tax break is the largest among the top 10 wholesalingnative wineries in Iowa. Eight of those 10 are classified asagricultural. Cedar Ridge Vineyards, Winery and Distillery, near Swisher, savedmore than $17, 000 this year by being classified agricultural asopposed to industrial, Johnson County Assessor Bill Greazel said.

Cedar Ridge opened a new event center this spring that can hostlive music, wedding receptions or corporate events for up to 200people. The estimated economic impact of Iowa s wine and vineyard industryin 2008 was $234 million, according to a study commissioned by thewinegrowers association. Iowa produced 186, 700 gallons of wine in2008 for a total of $7.6 million in retail value. Of eight Midwestern wine-producing states, Iowa is the only onethat classifies winery buildings as agricultural properties. Sen.

Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who is chairman of the Senate Waysand Means Committee, said now may be time to stop the tax breaksfor winery buildings. The question whether the processingfacilities or entertainment venues should get the same kind of taxtreatment is worth taking some time and reviewing, Bolkcom said.

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