Château La Dominique
It was in March 1493 that the triumphant Christopher Columbus sailed into the port of Palos de la Frontera, on the Gulf of Cadiz, his ship laden with artefacts and his head bursting with stories of the strange new lands he had discovered. He had been forced by a storm to make a brief stopover in Lisbon, where he paid his respects to Eleanor of Viseau, infanta of Portugal, but otherwise this was the first time his feet had been back on European soil since he had set sail on August 3rd the previous year. Word of his return, and the wondrous sights he had seen, spread like wildfire.
Just six months later Columbus set sail again, this time from Cádiz, now with a fleet of seventeen ships carrying more than 1,200 men. After a brief stopover at the Canary Islands, off the coast of West Africa, on October 13th the fleet struck out west across the Atlantic Ocean. It was three weeks before land was sighted, a small rocky island slowly rising above the horizon. It was November 3rd, a Sunday, dies Dominica in Latin, and thus the island was named Dominica. Within a few years there were Spanish settlers living there, but before long it was claimed by the French, in particular some employees of the Compagnie des Îles de l’Amérique, who referred to the island as La Dominique. Missionaries soon poured in, along with wood merchants drawn here by the island’s rich natural resources, although it seems there was no permanent occupation.
Legend has it that one French merchant, flushed with success, his pockets surely heavily lined from years of trading between France and the Caribbean, returned to his native country to settle. Acquiring a slice of land on what is today the boundary between the appellations of St Emilion and Pomerol, he named it La Dominique in honour of the island where he had made his fortune. More than three centuries later the land he acquired is more familiar to wine drinkers as the vineyard of Château la Dominique.
Although the association between Château La Dominique and the Caribbean island of the same name really has the status of legend, there being no hard evidence to link the two, there is nevertheless some compelling circumstantial evidence. The earliest document relating to the existence of Château La Dominique dates to 1690, the same year that the French established their first permanent settlement on Dominica. A deed of feudal ownership, issued under the authority of King Louis XIV, confirms that the estate was in the hands of Jean Micheau, who was a carpenter, the very profession that was drawn, like moths to a lamp, to the rich forests of Dominica. Was Jean Micheau the wealthy merchant referred to in the legend? Sadly, I suspect we will never know.