This is a feature from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Beatles gear collectors, Guernsey’s 2016 guitar auction, GA’s Ultimate Luxury Products Guide, and Twisted Sister guitarist Eddie Ojeda and his new line of hot sauces and D’Angelico signature model guitar, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.
GRAPE CRUSHER: Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine discovers love in a glass of Syrah.
By Chris Gill | Photography by Keith Leman
Most human beings are too wonderfully complex to summarize with one word, but if one were forced to choose a single word to describe Megadeth frontman Dave Mustaine, dedicated would be a good choice. The phenomenal success of Megadeth over its 33-year history is testimony to Mustaine’s dedication to the crafts of guitar playing and songwriting, as well as an unwavering devotion to his particularly aggressive style of heavy metal, which has defied and endured many changes in the pop music landscape that sometimes seduced his heroes and contemporaries. That dedication has paid off too, as Megadeth’s most recent album, Dystopia, debuted on the Billboard 200 at Number Three, which was his band’s highest debut since Countdown to Extinction entered the charts at Number Two in 1992.
But one of Mustaine’s most impressive displays of dedication is how he recently moved his family from their home in Fallbrook, California to Nashville, Tennessee in support of his daughter Electra’s ambitions as a country singer. “Electra was making a lot of effort and progress on her own,” Mustaine says, “and she wasn’t throwing her last name around, which a lot of rock-star kids do. California is a great place to live, but it’s not the ideal location for pursuing a career in country music. We were considering buying a second home in Texas, but when Megadeth played in Tennessee a bunch of people told me we should consider Nashville instead. After all, Nashville is called Music City for a reason. Electra is moving full steam ahead with her career now. I’m really proud of her.”
Mustaine admits that it took him and his wife Pamela a while to find the perfect house in Nashville, but they settled in quite quickly and comfortably after moving there in October of 2014. However, instead of buying a second house they decided to make it their permanent home. Mustaine was already quite comfortable working in Nashville—Megadeth had previously recorded several albums at studios there—so the transition wasn’t too difficult to make. Megadeth even recorded Dystopia a short distance away from Mustaine’s new home at Lattitude Studio South, located in the idyllic village of Leiper’s Fork.
About the only thing that Mustaine left behind in California was close proximity to the vineyards and winery that produces his new Mustaine Vineyards wines. Mustaine Vineyards introduced its first wine in 2014 when Dave and Fallbrook Winery collaborated on the release of the 2012 Symphony Interrupted Cabernet Sauvignon, which was bottled to commemorate Mustaine’s performance with the San Diego Symphony. After that wine proved to be incredibly successful, Mustaine joined forces with Temecula, California’s South Coast Winery to produce additional Mustaine Vineyards wines. To date, Mustaine Vineyards and South Coast have released three wines—the 2011 Blood of Heroes Syrah, 2013 Kingmaker Super Tuscan blend, and 2013 Hook in Mouth Monterey AVA red blend.
“The idea for Mustaine Vineyards originally came from my wife,” says Mustaine. “We planted a vineyard at our house in Fallbrook, and we got to know some of the winemakers who lived near us. When I was going to play with the San Diego Symphony, she suggested doing something that could join the worlds of metal and classical music, which can really collide. The manager of Fallbrook Winery planted our vineyard, so we went there and tasted a couple of different blends. When we found one we liked, we had it bottled. They bottled about 120 cases, which sold out within 48 hours. I think that people were curious to see what I liked.”
Mustaine was very happy with the wine’s instant success, which inspired him to continue with his winemaking venture. While he was pleased with the wines produced by Fallbrook Winery, for his next effort he decided to form a partnership with South Coast Winery, which has a higher output and is better equipped to handle increased demand. “My kids were attending school in Temecula, so I got to know several people in the wine business there,” he explains. “There are a lot of vineyards in Temecula, but South Coast is the best. We went there and met with the winemaker Jon McPherson and general manager Fred Novinger. It was so easy. We all had the same outlook towards life—we love life and celebrate it. Wine is the gift that we are giving to the world. Jon is making blends that I like the taste of, and we present them through this company.”
The Blood of Heroes Syrah, which was the first Mustaine Vineyards wine produced by South Coast, is also Mustaine’s favorite. “It’s a much more sophisticated wine than the Cabernet we produced previously,” Mustaine says. “It’s also much more expensive. I really like the Syrah, not because it’s more expensive but because of how it tastes. When I first tasted a sip of Cognac, I fell in love with that feeling you get when it first touches your mouth and that warmth goes all the way down. That’s the feeling that I get with the Syrah. After that we did the Kingmaker Super Tuscan blend, which is 70 percent Sangiovese and 30 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, and we just came out with the Hook in Mouth Monterey blend [50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 34 percent Zinfandel, 11 percent Syrah, and 5 percent Petit Verdot]. Right now it’s my second favorite wine that we’ve put out. The Syrah just blew my mind, and the Monterey blend is very close to it.”
Whereas many wine producers and connoisseurs alike collect and enjoy a wide variety of wines, Mustaine says that he prefers his own Mustaine Vineyards wines. “A lot of wine drinkers like different things,” he says. “Right now I prefer the good, straight reds that we’re making. I don’t like most white wines or sweet wines that much, although I know some of those wines can be very good. When my wife and I go out to restaurants, I’ll often try other wines to see how they compare to ours. Usually I go, ‘…ours is better,’” he says with a laugh. “It’s very rare when I find a wine that I think is better than ours.”
As a result, the wine cellar in Mustaine’s new Nashville home is stocked exclusively with Mustaine Vineyards wines. Similarly, the only guitars that one will find in Mustaine’s arsenal, including his acoustics, are the brand that he’s been endorsing for the last 10 years: Dean. “Other companies that I worked with before just wanted to make guitars and send me a few,” Mustaine explains. “Dean feels like home to me, and they have treated me really well. When it comes to service, quality control, and understanding the touring musician’s mindset, which is the most important part of all, Dean is the right company for me. When you play a guitar night after night, a lot can happen to it. Whenever I need to have a guitar fixed, I have no problem sending it back to Dean because when I get it back it’s always the way it’s supposed to be.”
Dean currently offers 26 different Dave Mustaine models. Mustaine’s favorite Dean model is the Stradi VMNT (“It’s a work of art,” he says), and he calls the Holy Grail, which features a 24k gold-leaf finish, “our best design for the eccentric guitar collector.” While a V-shaped guitar has been Mustaine’s main axe of choice since the early days of Megadeth, lately he’s frequently been seen on stage with his new Explorer-shaped model, the Zero.
“The Zero reminds me of what I used to play before I was in Metallica,” he says. “There’s something very metal about a V and an Explorer shape. A lot of guys use Strats, which are very cool, but when most people see Strats they think of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. I love that music as well, but for the kind of music I play I need something that sounds brighter and heavier than the typical Strat sound.”
In addition to being able to produce his own lines of wines and guitars, Mustaine says that the greatest benefit of more than three decades of success is his dedicated legion of fans. “Even in Megadeth’s worst of times, things were actually fantastic,” he says. “The fans have always supported our music. They even support and follow Megadeth’s former band members after they’re no longer in the band. Some critics single me out for having many different band members in Megadeth, but nobody ever talks about how Black Sabbath has had more different members than us. But for Megadeth fans that’s a good thing as they have more music to enjoy and support. They have a respectful, mature relationship with all the musicians who have played with me and continue to stick by them. I’ve got the greatest job in the world, because all I have to do is sell what I love. Fortunately, a lot of other people love it too.”
This is a feature from the all-new MAY/JUNE 2016 issue of Guitar Aficionado magazine. For this story and more photos, plus features on Beatles Gear Collectors, Guernsey’s 2016 guitar auction, GA’s Ultimate Luxury Products Guide, and Twisted Sister guitarist Eddie Ojeda and his new line of hot sauces and D’Angelico signature model guitar, pick up the new issue of Guitar Aficionado at your newsstand, or online by clicking anywhere in this text.