While 2020 has been a year that will live long in the memory of many for all the wrong reasons, the team behind the development of Whitton Malt House will remember it as a time their vision came to fruition.
The creation of the region's newest tourism venture and agricultural production facility was a direct result of the partnership between Voyager Craft Malt and Southern Cotton.
Voyager Craft Malt's business of servicing boutique breweries, distilleries and bakeries had grown to the point of needing to expand its malting plant.
Southern Cotton and Voyager Craft Malt director Roger Commins said after several conversations it was decided to build a greenfield site to accommodate that growth.
"Southern Cotton was looking to diversify its business and Voyager Craft malt seemed like a good fit," Mr Commins said. "Southern Cotton helped fund the project and became minor shareholders in Voyager Craft Malt."
The idea of tapping into agritourism and setting up a cellar door evolved as part of that process.
"It was suggested that we build something for the micro-breweries and distilleries to showcase the beers and whiskies made out of Voyager Craft Malt. Mr Commins said.
"That then grew into a place where we could showcase a lot of the production of this region and use this platform to educate visitors on the importance of the irrigation water to the region."
It is believed the cellar door concept of "paddock to producer to multiple products and back" on one site is unique and was driven collectively by all those involved with the project.
Mr Commins said having Whitton Malt House operational brought with it a certain sense of satisfaction.
"There is certainly a strong sense of pride amongst everyone who has been part of this journey," he said.
"I think that the community at large is proud to have a facility like this available to them to visit and bring their families and friends to.
"It is certainly satisfying that we are getting towards the pointy end of the build. We have a feeling however, that this place will continually evolve.
"If we get the support from the community and tourists, we will continue to invest back into the business.
"Stage one of the development is nearing completion. We are tossing up a few developments for the future, including a native wetland, golf driving range and caravan park.
"There have been days when we did wonder 'what were we thinking?', to take on a project of this magnitude. Then you see the enjoyment people are getting from it and it's all good."
Mr Commins said there was never a concern the project wouldn't be completed.
"Once the core funding was secured and locked, we were confident the contractors would work with us to make sure that the many facets of this development came together," he said.
"The most satisfying thing about the build was nearly all contractors involved are local businesses, so the money involved is predominantly staying here in the local area."
It is predicted that between opening day on November 11 and Christmas the malt house will welcome more than 5000 visitors, while Voyager Craft Malt has malting projections into the thousands of tonnes.
Mr Commins thanked all those who had been part of the project and helped bring it to reality.
"Most importantly, we thank our wonderful staff who have been on the journey from the beginning and who will continue with the ongoing operation of the business," he said.
Telling a malt house story
Whitton Malt House encapsulates a full-circle story of Riverina agricultural production, showcasing a "paddock-to-glass" process.
As well as an attraction for tourists and visitors, the Darlington Point Road site features a working malting facility, operated by Voyager Craft Malt.
The story begins with the intake of Riverina-grown barley, which is malted on-site by Voyager. This malt is distributed nationally to create products ranging from beer, whisky, vodka, and gin, to breads.
These products, all made from Riverina barley, are showcased through the one-of-a-kind Whiton Malt House cellar door, which was specifically designed to bring them together to enjoy in the one location.
Sitting alongside a working malt house enables visitors a unique insight into the malting process, from the field right through to the finished product.
- Read the Whitton Malt House advertising feature online HERE
The malt house concept grew from a partnership formed between Southern Cotton and Voyager Craft Malt in 2019.
They shared a vision for the malt industry - build a sustainable world-class, craft malting facility to supply artisan malt to elite whisky distillers, craft brewers and bakers.
In just 12-months, a greenfield site was transformed into an operational craft malting facility.
However, during the planning stage, the directors realised that there was nowhere to showcase products created with Voyager malt, which is where the Whitton Malt House idea began.
The region is one of Australia's most important food bowls, but the 2018 Riverina Murray Destination Management Plan highlighted the need for additional quality and engaging food tourism experiences.
Whitton Malt House taps into that with a variety of selling points to appeal to the tourism market, including:
Cellar door: Showcasing regional produce and beverages. Offerings include spirit and craft beer tasting boards, cheese, gourmet meats, breadboards, whisky blending classes, regional wine and coffee. Visitors will be encouraged to experience, learn about our produce and story, sit, eat, drink and enjoy the ambience.
Outdoors: The landscaped park and gardens feature a lake with Murray cod catch-and-release fishing and aqua golf, a children's playground and swing bridge.
Accommodation: There are currently eight one- and two-bedroom lakeside villas.