, I searched again and didn't find anything new on historical use of sulfites, other than Romans burning sulfur candles in barrels. So I searched on "Campden tablets" (Wikipedia has some info) and found this article:
Tells how the Campden Tablet was invented at Long Ashton for fruit preservation
The use of Campden tablets in winemaking appears to have started after WWII, so Campden usage it appears to be ~75 years old.
I went to my bookshelf -- in HE Bravery's Successful Winemaking At Home
, published in 1961, Bravery describes making K-meta water and mentions Campden tablets.
In Easy To Make Wine
(published 1963) by Mrs. Gennery-Taylor, there is no mention of sulfite. [The first version of this book was titled in England as Easymade Wine and Country Drinks
in 1957.] My guess is sulfite was not universal (which is still true).
In Philip M Wagner's Grapes Into Wine
, first published in 1933 (I have the 1963 revision) he mentions that sulfur has been used since antiquity, and that burning sulfur works, but it's imprecise. He favors use of K-meta. I have the 60 yo revision, so I can't say what was written pre-WWII.
An article on WineMakerMag says that an understanding of sulfite usage in all stages of winemaking was realized about a century ago, which coincides with the first development of Campden tablets (~1920).
Sulfites get a bad rap in the world outside of true wine aficionados. Alex Russan takes readers on a journey through the world of sulfites and describes a couple schools of thought regarding its use throughout the winemaking process.
My take is that the "modern" usage of sulfite began in the 1920's, and by the time (1984) I was told to use 1/4 tsp per 19-23 liters, it was so common that no one thought about where the rule came from.
This is interesting -- In Stanley F Anderson's The Art of Making Wine
(1970), he recommends sulfiting the must to 120 ppm, using 4.5 tsp (1 oz) in 36 gallons of must. That's 3/4 tsp in 6 US gallons. Wow. Fifteen years later I was told to use 1/3 that amount. I'm not sure what to make of that.
Interesting side note -- Mrs. Gennery-Taylor states on page 10, in all caps:
I FIND THAT THE MAIN VIRTUE NEEDED FOR WINEMAKING IS PATIENCE.