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The New York State Fair will add competitions, move the New York Wine Village and expand the Dairy Cow Birthing Center this summer.

Acting State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball last week announced some of the changes, which a news release said had been made after fair officials met last year with farmers, winemakers, restaurateurs and others.

This year's theme will be "Summer's Best in Show," and the fair will be held Aug. 21-Sept. 1 at the New York State Fairgrounds, 581 State Fair Blvd., Geddes, Onondaga County.

New contests

A watermelon carving contest will debut the first two days of the fair in August. People must bring their own watermelons and pre-register, which soon will be available at nysfair.org or by calling (315) 487-7711. Other competitions under consideration were not specified.

Food and drink

Winery owners and others applauded the move of the wine village back to the Colonnade area near the center of the fairgrounds. The site overlooks Chevy Court, where entertainers perform. It also is close to food vendors and the Dairy Products Building, so fairgoers will be able to purchase food and cheese to pair with their wines, Glenora Wine Cellars' Gene Pierce said by phone.

"They've listened to our concerns and adjusted by giving us a better location," he said of fair organizers.

The village, featuring New York wines, formerly was at the Colonnade but has been at several other sites over the last few years. The worst year was when the wine village was next to the livestock barns, Pierce said in a newsletter. "At times it was challenging to discern the bouquet of the wine from the 'bouquet' wafting from the animals."

"Both visitors and sales dropped at the alternative locations, and ... the wineries were very unhappy with them," Jim Trezise, president of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation, wrote in an email. He pointed out that the fair is "a very big undertaking logistically and staff-wise" for the wineries.

Sales are only one aspect of the fair for the wineries, though, Trezise and Pierce said.

"There's also the brand-building benefit of interacting directly with thousands of consumers who may well visit the winery or at least ask for the wines in local stores and restaurants long after the fair is over," Trezise said.

Glenora attends the fair partly to "create awareness for Finger Lakes wines and ... for Glenora wines," Pierce said. "It truly is amazing that so many people ... don't realize New York has a wine industry."

He added, "The New York State Fair, it is still an agricultural fair. We are an agricultural product. It adds credibility to our industry."

In other wine-related news, the "Taste NY" experience will return, with a wine and cheese pairing competition, a trail involving New York foods, a tasting tent and at least two wine and cheese seminars daily in the Horticulture Building.

Newborn calves

Restaurants at the west end of the fairgrounds said the Dairy Cow Birthing Center, where 30 calves were born, helped increase their sales last year. This year, the center will be in a larger tent with twice the seating, large-screen televisions, a live web feed and talks by farmers and veterinarians. Two calves born during the 2013 fair will return for petting.

Improvements

Video and digital screens will be updated daily around the fairgrounds. "There is just so much going on at the fair at one time that sometimes it's tough for fairgoers to keep track of it all," Bell said.

Improvements are underway to the horse and sheep barns, the Toyota Coliseum, the FFA building and the Wittier Museum.

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