The IRS recently issued a new Audit Technique Guide (“ATG”, available here) applicable to winery and vineyard operations. As with previous IRS guidance, the new ATG is meant to be used by IRS examiners; however the IRS anticipates the industry will rely upon the publication as a guide. It should be noted, the ATG should not be cited as the IRS's technical position.
Many of the issues in the new publication have been previously covered in prior IRS guidance. In this ATG, however, the IRS appears to streamline many of its positions. For example, the UNICAP rules, to which wineries are subject, have evolved since the 1995 guidance. While previously cited as only temporary, these rules have since been finalized, and additional UNICAP rules have been added.
While the streamlining in the new guidance is mainly procedural, the ATG does reflect some significant developments. One such change is the IRS's acknowledgement that vineyards may qualify for Section 179 deductions. Currently, Section 179 allows a $500,000 deduction to taxpayers who place over $2 million of property in service by the end of 2011. For 2012, Section 179 reduces those numbers to a $125,000 deduction for placing over $500,000 of property in service during that year. The deduction will be further reduced to $25,000 for tax years beyond 2012. The ATG states that, based on changes to the definition of property subject to the Section 179 deduction, "[c]ertain practitioners are taking the position that this new definition includes vineyards and are taking [the Section] 179 deduction."
In addition, the ATG addresses and essentially blesses an income deferral method rejected in a 1996 case. The ATG describes the case as involving an accounting structure in which a farmer, using cash method accounting and operating a vineyard as a division of a winery, would sell grapes to the winery without receiving payment until the wine was sold, up to two or three years later. As a result of using cash method accounting, the vineyard would defer income until such time as the wine was sold. The ATG states that in 1997, the IRS published treasury regulations allowing this accounting practice.