When we left Régnié-Durette after our picnic lunch, our plan was to drive north through the prime Beaujolais « cru » vineyards before driving back to the Bourbonnais late in the afternoon. « Cru » is one of those French terms like « terroir » — it's pretty hard to translate. Let's just say "local vintages." Anyway, Beaujolais is actually divided into three distinct wine areas, or « terroirs ». In the south, closer to Lyon, the soil is clay and limestone (as it is around Saint-Aignan), and the wines produced are just labeled as Beaujolais. Paradoxically, the south in south Beaujolais is "colder" — slower to warm up in the sun — than the soil in north Beaujolais.
The middle part of Beaujolais is where the soil transitions from being clay and limestone into a layer of sand and schist over a granite base. The wine towns there label their production as Beaujolais-Villages. Most are made with a mix of grapes from different vineyard parcels and villages, but still they are considered a step up in quality from the plain Beaujolais wines made to their south. They don't carry a more specific appellation than just Beaujolais-Villages, however.
Finally, the northern part of Beaujolais is an area where topography, soil type, and weather conditions produce the wines that are considered to be the best that Beaujolais has to offer. It's a much hillier area, so not only are the granitic soils lighter than the clay of the south, but the vineyard parcels are better exposed to warm sunshine because they are often on east- or south-facing slopes. The soil warms up more quickly and the grapes ripen more completely, making for richer, tastier wines.
We had done just a little bit of research to see where we might find good places to buy some bottles of Beaujolais to bring back to Saint-Aignan. We tend to favor wine cooperatives rather than individual producers in situations like these, when we don't have a lot of time. Individual producers are often very busy people, and many require you to make an appointment rather than just show up unannounced to taste and perhaps buy bottles of their wines.
Co-ops are places of business with regular hours. You can just drop in, with the assurance that somebody will be there to advise you and sell you the wines you want. You can taste too, but we weren't tasting because we were driving. We drove north through the vineyards and through villages we've long heard of — Villié-Morgon, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, and Juliénas, for example. Those are the Beaujolais villages that are authorized to put their name on their wine labels, because each village produces a vintage that is distinctive compared to all the other varieties of Beaujolais, and has its own special characteristics and reputation.