A project aimed at saving billions of litres of River Murray water annually is showing very positive results, according to participants.

Orlando Wyndham, which is partnering the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) in the project, said initial water savings of 33%. compared with historical water use data had been achieved.

The project, which is based at Orlando Wyndham's 630 hectare Langhorne Creek vineyard, combines a series of water saving techniques such as sub-surface irrigation and partial root zone drying with mulching to achieve water savings.

About 10% of the vineyard is involved in the trial.

Orlando Wyndham group technical manager, viticulture and winemaking, Russell Johnstone, said initial results had been achieved without a loss of crop or change in wine quality.

Johnstone said two aims of the project, which started mid-last year were to make major water savings while at the same time continuing to grow high quality grapes.

"Wineries have to irrigate to meet modern market requirements, however, we must make best use of our water and minimise waste," Johnstone said.

"This is very important given the dependence of many wine companies on the Murray, sourcing up to 70% of their grapes from regions irrigated from the Murray Darling system.

"This provides a chance for us to lead the way for the wine industry to reduce reliance on the Murray and help restore it to a more healthy condition."

In 1996-97 the grape industry throughout Australia used around 400 billion litres (400GL, or gigalitres) in irrigation, and that figure could have increased by at least 30% since then to more than 500 GL, it is believed.

Johnstone said advice from SARDI was that the integrated total water management system being developed with Orlando Wyndham could mean water consumption savings by the wine industry of up to 60% to 70% and consistently around 50%.

"If the water use projections are right at around 500 billion litres the projected savings would be huge," he said.