Dallas Clark caught more touchdowns than any other tight end in Indianapolis Colts history. He spent a decade in the NFL, went to a Pro Bowl, and won a Super Bowl.
His game-winning catch against Purdue in 2002 is one of the most iconic plays in the Ferentz era. The Hawkeye from 1999-2002 earned All-America honors and won the John Mackey award as the nation’s top tight end — an incredible football career considering he originally came to Iowa as a walk-on linebacker.
Now retired from the NFL, Clark is taking his talents from the gridiron to the vineyard.
Clark, 35, is the owner of Train Wreck Winery in Algona, Iowa.
Named after a famous train crash that occurred in 1920 near the site of Clark’s family farm, Train Wreck Winery offers seven different handcrafted wines made from grapes grown throughout the Midwest — including vineyards on Clark’s century-old family farm in Livermore, Iowa.
The tasting room and retail space is nestled in what was once Algona’s historic Chicago North Western railroad station. Since opening its doors in Dec. 2011, Train Wreck has earned awards at the World Wine Championships and gained recognition at other national and international competitions.
Bottles can now be found on the shelves at more than 100 locations throughout Iowa, ranging from Alden to West Des Moines, and can be ordered online.
“There are a lot of great wineries in Iowa,” Clark said. “We’re trying to build a niche in a competitive industry and get our name out there. The ultimate goal is to be a part of people’s experiences and celebrations by making quality wine that can be enjoyed with friends and family.”
Family plays a central role at Train Wreck.
Steve Larson, Clark’s father-in-law, serves as head winemaker and manager, and the former Hawkeye’s brother-in-law is a distributor of the wine in Central Iowa.
Opening a winery wasn’t initially part of Clark’s career plans. The business venture came together serendipitously.
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From 1997-2005, Larson traveled to Germany annually as a member of the Army Reserve. Fascinated by the beer and wine festivals in the small villages of Germany, he started dabbling in home-brewing his own beer and ultimately decided to give winemaking a try.
At the same time, Clark was looking for ways to expand and add value to his farming operation, and seeking out ways to get his extended family more involved.
“It really started out as something fun to do as a family — a way to bring everyone closer together,” Clark said.
After extensive research, they planted a few grapes, and everything just fell into place. The abandoned Algona train depot Clark had previously purchased became the perfect location to house the winery, and Larson began taking grape-growing and winemaking classes at Des Moines Area Community College to hone his craft.
Before they knew it, the family activity evolved into a family business.
This is Clark’s first full season away from football, and the married father of three is currently living in Zionsville, Indiana — about 17 miles northwest of Indianapolis. Despite his busy NFL schedule and being out of state, Larson said the former Hawkeye has been involved in every phase of the business from the very beginning.
He’s returned to Iowa to assist with the harvesting and bottling process, and has brought vital expertise to the advertising and promotion of the business.
“Dallas has a good sense for marketing,” Larson said. “He played an integral role in our label and cork design. He has an intuition about what people like, and we lean on him heavily for that.”
The former Hawkeye plans to take on more responsibility with the day-to-day operations in the near future, though. The family intends to move back to the Hawkeye State later this year.
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Leaving Indiana will be difficult, Clark said. They’ve established several friendships, and the community has embraced the All-Pro tight end for the better part of a decade.
But there’s nothing quite like home and being with family.
“I have a lot of pride in where I came from,” Clark said. “Representing Iowa has made my entire journey and this business that much more enjoyable. I’m excited to get back to Iowa and be more involved in the community and with the winery.”
Train Wreck has high expectations for 2015 and beyond. They hope to double the number of retailers selling the product, and they’ll be introducing four new wines later this year.
“I’m the boss, but I need to start earning my keep,” Clark joked. “I’m excited to start getting my hands dirty.”