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Sulser Bryant sues to silence the whistleblower who once saved her $3 million

Other articles to be published in this new, three-part series:

  • SLAPP Shot? How Sulser Bryant’s curiously redundant San Francisco lawsuit against her former financial consultant may violate state law
  • Sulser Bryant’s imaginary conspiracy

NOTE: This three-part update is based primarily on new court filings and judicial decisions. The context is enhanced because our previous coverage prompted multiple knowledgeable and current winery sources not connected with the litigation to contact Wine Industry Insight (WII) with additional information.

The accuracy, context and content of these articles are improved because our previous coverage of prompted multiple knowledgeable and current winery sources not connected with the litigation to contact Wine Industry Insight (WII) with additional information.

All source attributable information is confirmed by court documents or multiple independent sources not connected with the litigation. Wine Industry Insight adheres to the Associated Press rules on anonymous sources.


UPDATE: 6:08 p.m., 10/14/ — Bryant Winery lawyer issues wandering letter filled with vague claims and asks for a retraction. (Rejected)


A Napa Valley “cult” winery CEO’s personal anger and potential mismanagement seems to underpin a bi-coastal federal court battle with two separate law firms in New York and California whose cases are not coordinated and thus sometimes working at cross purposes.

This is according to court documents, current winery sources, and individuals close to the Bryant Family Trust who have spoken to Wine Industry Insight either on background or off-the-record and not to be identified.

The situation started with the abrupt firing of Lauren Ridenhour, a financial consultant and former employee of Bryant Vineyards, Inc. The winery founded in 1986 by wealthy businessman and art collector Donald L. Bryant, Jr. and his ex-wife, Barbara. The current winery CEO is Bryant’s second wife, Bettina Sulser Bryant.

Bryant Vineyards Inc. and its associated associated winery, Bryant Estate, are ultimately owned by a family trust.

In the beginning,  Ridenhour sues the Bryants

As detailed in this June 3, 2019 article in Wine Industry Insight, on March 22, 2019, financial consultant Lauren Ridenhour sued Donald I. Bryant Jr., and his wife, Bettina Sulser Bryant in New York U.S. District Court.

Her complaint charged the winery with wrongful discharge and failure to pay for her work on refinancing a $100-million loan secured by the Bryant Art Trust’s collection of fine art said to be worth $300 million.

Ridenhour, formerly with JP Morgan Chase Private Bank and similar banks, helps high-net-worth individuals and family trusts to get the best terms for very large and, sometimes unusual loans.

Court filings acknowledge that the refinance work on the 2016 loan she did for the Bryants saved them more than $3 million in interest expenses. That assertion has not been challenged by Sulser Bryant.

  • Refinancing the 2016 loan due in the spring of 2019

  • Bank underwriting changes put an unwelcome focus on  Bryant Family Vineyard  finances and regulatory compliance.

  • Bryant Trust Trustees repeatedly informed

  • Bryant Art Trust Asks that Ridenhour’s complaint be dismissed for lack of details

  • Ridenhour adds more details to her complaint to head off dismissal

In reaction to the move to dismiss, on July 31, Ridenhour’s attorney filed a Second Amended Complaint that included five exhibits which offered more specific information to address the Bryant dismissal effort.Ridenhour’s original complaint and the Second Amended one, describe many other documents, emails and other related data.

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 2.38.47 PM

Court standards are relatively consistent across the nation. Defeating a demand for dismissal does not require the sort of full-blown disclosure as does the discovery aspect of a trial. Instead, it requires providing enough evidence to satisfy the court that a genuine case exists to be litigated.

In addition to the previous exhibit, the new ones included documents:

  • showing partial payment for Ridenhour’s loan refinance work in progress,

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 2.38.59 PM

  • an email report describing Ridenhour’s work on the new loan, (image for premium subscribers)
  • a discussion on art loans and how they have changed since the 2016 loan Ridenhour negotiated, (image for premium subscribers)and
  • an an art loan discussion created by Sulser Bryant.

Screen Shot 2019-10-08 at 2.39.41 PM

 

  • Bad timing: The snit that triggered a clumsy legal fumble in San Francisco  that complicated the Bryant legal defense in New York

  • Stop Her!

The rest of this 1,932-word article is available to Wine Executive News Premium Subscribers

Previous WII coverage:

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29 Full Ridenhour and Bryant litigation court documents for premium Wine Executive News Premium

  1. Ridenhour complaint-032219
  2. Ridenhour complaint-Amended-042219
  3. Ridenhour complaint-Amended-Exhibit-042219
  4. Response to defendant srequest for premotion conference-060619
  5. Bryant-V-Ridenhour-Complaint- 073019
  6. Bryant-V-Ridenhour-Complaint-Exhibita-073019
  7. Second amended complaint-Ridenhour-073119
  8. Complaint amended-Exhibita-073119
  9. Complaint amended-Exhibitb-073119
  10. Complaint amended-Exhibitc-073119
  11. Complaint amended-Exhibitd-073119
  12. Complaint amended-Exhibite-073119
  13. Declaration Of Bettina Sulser Bryant In Support Of Plaintiff’s Ex Parte Application For (1) Temporary Restraining Order And (2) Order To Show Cause Regarding Preliminary Injunction-081919
  14. Request For Judicial Notice In Support Of Plaintiff’s Ex Parte Application For (1) Temporary Restraining Order And (2) Order To Show Cause Regarding Preliminary Injunction-081919
  15. Plaintiff’s Ex Parte Application For (1) Temporary Restraining Order And (2) Order To Show Cause Regarding Preliminary Injunction-081919
  16. [Proposed] (1) Temporary Restraining Order And (2) Order To Show Cause Regarding Preliminary Injunction 1322660.1-081919
  17. Declaration Of Keith J. Wesley In Support Of Plaintiff’s Ex Parte Application For (1) Temporary Restraining Order And (2) Order To Show Cause Regarding Preliminary Injunction-081919
  18. Order Re Plaintiff’s Ex Parte Application For Temporary Restraining Order-081920
  19. Defendant-Ridenhour-Memorandum Of Law In Opposition To Plaintiff-Application For A Tro-08/21/19
  20. Judge order-Ex parte application for TRO-082319
  21. Stipulation-On-Confidential-Information-09-03-19
  22. Plaintiff’s-Bryant-Ex-Parte -Application-Etc-091119
  23. Plaintiff ridenhour-Memorandum-Of-Law-In-Opposition-To-Defendantbryant-Motion-To-Dismiss-09/13/19
  24. Second-Amended-Complaint-Exhibits-Ridenhour-Opposition-To-Dismissal-09/13/19
  25. Order-Denying-Plaintiff-Ex-Parte-Application-091319
  26. Declaration-Of-Bettina-Sulser-Bryant-Opposition-To-Defendant-Lauren-Ridenhour-Motion-To-Dismiss-Complaint-09/20/19
  27. Declaration Of Pearl Zuchlewski In Opposition To Plaintiff’s Application For A Tro- 09/20/19
  28. Defendant Ridenhour Reply Memorandum In Support Of Motion To Dismiss The Second Amended Complaint-092719
  29. Defendant-Bryant-Reply Memorandum Of Law In Support Of Motion To Dismiss The Second Amended Complaint-092719