Are all 18 AOPs from the Southern Rhône considered crus - or is it only the 9 centered AOPs (CdP, Lirac, Tavel, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaumes de Venise, Rasteau, Cairanne and Vinsobres) that are of cru-status? If so, what is the difference between the crus and the "non-cru"-AOPs of the Southern Rhône? I was under the impression that all 18 AOPs were considered crus, similar to the AOPs of Beaujolais where all 10 AOPs are crus - so what is correct?
This is an interesting question as I see how the terminology is confusing. I'm not a native speaker but In my experience traveling through France the word "cru" is used fairly regularly/loosely and can describe a very specific place such as a vineyard (even part of) or a larger footprint such as Morgon, Gigondas etc. This word does not carry a specific definition as it pertains to law, it simply means "growth" and its meaning depends on the context in which it's used. It denotes high quality in a colloquial sense and I see how it's confusing due to a lack of a definitive size. This is not used in the same way as premier or grand cru as we see in a host of other AOPs where this terminology is written into the law such as Chambertin or Brand or Chateau Angélus.
When it comes to the Southern Rhône there isn't a ranking system pertaining to cru, meaning when it comes to how the AOPs are defined by law Gigondas does not rank above Ventoux, regardless if I'd rather drink a Gigondas in most cases.
To answer your bonus question you are both right and wrong. Where you are right is that Plan de Dieu, Visan etc. do not have their own AOP. The confusing part is that CdR Villages has a "geographical designation" written into the AOP where an approved village can append their name to the CdR Village appellation but that doesn't grant a stand alone AOP with its own laws such as CdR Villages Visan. This is just a way to be more specific in the CdR Village AOP but they all follow the same laws except that Chusclan produces only red & rosé and Massif d'Uchaux, Saint-Andéol, Signargues, Plan de Dieu, Puyméras, Gadagne, Sainte-Cécile, Suze-la-Rousse and Vaison-la-Romaine only produce red. This is essentially an "at bat" for future AOPs, the last village to be elevated to its own AOP was Cairanne in 2016. It was previously a geographical designation under the CdR Village AOP. They have the same system in the Mâcaonnais which you can find here.
There are two other words that can be used interchangeably with cru that always refer to a vineyard or part of a vineyard, not a larger geographical area that we should clarify as well. These are generally used in Burgundy, but also in the Loire and elsewhere.
I'd love for someone who knows more than me to weigh in as well, as I'm not French and as Blake has discovered am often wrong too. Semantics for non native speakers can be challenging. What I am confident in is what the law states in terms of ranking and definition.
Help me out Pascaline Lepeltier!!
So in a nutshell, a village that has not been given AOP status can still be a part of CdR Village but that does not allow them to label themselves as the village itself, yes?
Correct, only if they have been approved for a geographical designation. There are plenty of other communes in the Rhône that do not have this option. Not sure the number, but it's a big footprint. In the Mâconnais for instance there are over 80 villages allowed in the general Mâcon Village appellation but only 27 that have a geograophical designation and can append their name to the Mácon Village AOP.